6 keys to building world-class leadership development capability

Leadership development models have become obsolete and are out of sync with the current context

In a world of unprecedented change, complexity and high velocity, traditional leadership development models have become obsolete and are out of sync with the current context, writes Sebastian Salicru

If a picture is worth a thousand words, data, facts and figures say far more than even a thousand words. This is the story the most credible leadership development research is telling us:

In Australia, the cost resulting from lack of employee engagement was put at $54.8 billion a year in 2013. Not surprisingly, in 2016, 75 per cent of employees reported that Australian workplaces needed better managers and leaders.

This precarious state of affairs exists despite the fact that organisations invest heavily in preparing their leaders by spending an estimated US$15.5 billion in the US in 2013. Clearly, the growing multibillion dollar leadership development industry is failing to deliver results and corporations have become victims of ‘the great training robbery‘. But those are only the symptoms.

The causes
When designing leadership development programs, organisations keep making the same errors. They:

  1. Confuse management, authority and power with leadership
  2. Mistake ‘leader’ development for ‘leadership’ development
  3. Are too attached to competency-based models and neglect character development
  4. Underestimate the importance of creative thinking and innovation
  5. Fail to conduct impact evaluations, and
  6. Ignore best practices when designing their leadership development programs.

6 keys to building leadership capability
To build organisation-wide leadership capability, contemporary organisations need to be attentive and responsive to the following six key areas.

1. Distinguish between management and leadership
By confusing management, authority and power with leadership, organisations focus their efforts on developing individuals in management positions only – those with authority within the organisational structure who can exercise legitimate power to enforce compliance through command and control. Leadership, on the other hand, is about exercising influence to mobilise others to collectively tackle difficult challenges and achieve organisational results, whether they are in a management position or not.

2. Move beyond ‘leader’ into ‘leadership’ development
Historically, and as a result of the above, organisations have mistaken ‘leader’ development with ‘leadership’ development. Thus, they focus heavily on enhancing the knowledge, skills and abilities of individual contributors (managers). This focus needs to expand by building the leadership capacity of the whole organisation, not only that of certain individuals. This means developing leaders at all organisational levels and boosting the collective leadership capacity of the organisation. This, in turn, empowers employees and bolsters employee engagement.

3. Use meta-competencies and focus on character development
In their quest to develop individual leaders in the image of the heroic ‘lone ranger’, organisations have embraced the competency-based movement to develop their leaders. While competencies are desirable for management development, leadership development requires a more holistic approach. Competency models emerged in the 1970s as a way of codifying the required behaviour for specific managerial positions.

They were established by identifying the behaviours that led to past successes, as opposed to examining the mindsets needed for the future – which is today. Using competencies only for leadership development is inappropriate, as they only reflect some aspects of leadership and offer an ‘illusory promise’ for developing leaders. Leadership is fundamentally a relationship, not about individuals’ competencies.

The solution is moving towards using ‘adaptive’ or ‘meta-competencies’ – the sets of knowledge, skills, and aptitudes that underpin or allow for the development of other competencies, especially those that people will need in the future. Meta-competencies enable learning, adapting, anticipating, and creating change.

Developing character is also key to effective leadership development. As Kevin Cashman, CEO at Korn Ferry, explains, “competencies get us to the doorway of leadership, but character gets us through the doorway of leadership. Managers tend to control resources to get results, but leaders exert character to build a sustainable future”.

4. Focus on creativity and innovation
Creativity is now projected to become the third most important skill needed in 2020. Around 60 per cent of the CEOs polled by IBM believe that creativity is the most important leadership quality. Modern organisations need to innovate continuously to ensure their long-term survival and success. Leadership is the precursor of all innovation. Strategically, leaders establish work environments that are conducive to creative thinking and innovation which in turn leads to a competitive advantage.

Leader behaviour is also an important predictor of innovative workplace behaviour (IWB) – the behaviour that guides the initiation and intentional introduction of new and useful ideas, processes, products or procedures. This is paramount in today’s uncertain global economy where organisational renewal has become critical due to the increased competitiveness that accompanies accelerating technological change.

5. Conduct impact evaluations
Conducting evaluations is an important component of the leadership development process itself with three main benefits: extending the reflective dimension of the program by inviting participants to consider the value of the experience and how they apply it; gathering valuable suggestions for improvements to the program; and fostering employee engagement and loyalty.

Sadly, while 86 per cent of organisations evaluate at the level of participants’ reactions (satisfaction) immediately after their executive programs, only 11 per cent evaluate the impact of their programs at the organisational level, and only 3 per cent assess the ROI of the initiatives. In fact, a more recent Harvard Business School study found that only 26 per cent of respondents acknowledged having a way to measure the impact of their leadership development programs.

6. Follow best practices
A unique global study identifies the following 14 best-practice principles of leadership development:

  1. CEO’s commitment
  2. Strategic orientation, alignment and scope
  3. Senior management’s involvement
  4. Clear and relevant program goals and objectives
  5. Careful selection and mix of participants
  6. Comprehensive and integrated assessment
  7. Thorough preparation process
  8. Pre-entry feedback/coaching sessions
  9. Coaching and peer coaching
  10. Highly experiential approach
  11. Reflective learning and journaling
  12. Building social capital through networking
  13. Program follow-up; and
  14. Evaluation

By implementing the above, organisations will be able to empower their workforce, promote distributed leadership, and create a leaderful organisation.

Image source: iStock